The October issue of PA Township News from the PA State Association of Township Supervisors features an article about one of the most significant recycling challenges faced by local governments-- recycling electronics waste.
E-Waste Woes, Electronics Recycling Continues To Pose Challenges by Assistant PA Township News Editor Brenda Wilt, provides an overview of the difficulties of recycling electronics waste under a state law in badly need of updating. Here’s the article, reprinted with permission--
Despite the success that municipal and county recycling programs enjoy, there is an 800-pound gorilla that cannot be ignored: electronic waste, or e-waste.
Many recycling centers and some municipalities began recycling electronics years ago to give residents a convenient way to dispose of unwanted devices.
E-cycling took on added urgency after the state legislature passed the Covered Device Recycling Act (CDRA) in 2010, which addressed the recycling and disposal of certain “covered” electronic devices: desktop and laptop computers, monitors, and peripherals, tablets, televisions, and e-readers that have a browser and connect to the internet.
Under the act, landfills and other solid waste disposal facilities are prohibited from accepting covered devices or their components; these items must be recycled because of the toxic materials they contain.
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), many consumer electronics contain heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, as well as other materials that are best kept out of the environment.
The typical cathode ray tube (CRT) computer monitor (the bulky, non-flat screen type) contains four to seven pounds of lead. CRT televisions may contain even more lead.
Unfortunately, the law has not worked as it was intended, mostly due to the underestimated volume of e-waste and the inadequate market-share model the law uses to calculate manufacturers’ recycling obligations.
More Effective Collection Model Needed
Bob Bylone, president of the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center, which helps develop markets for recyclables collected in Pennsylvania, explains that the CDRA has elements that can be improved, including the market-share model it uses to calculate manufacturers’ responsibilities.
“The law has an annual collection target based on material weight,” he says. “Electronic manufacturers are required to collect a percentage of that based on the weight of electronics they sold in the previous two years.”
The problem with this model is that the materials that are coming from the waste stream are older and much heavier than what is being sold, Bylone says. Thus, the original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, reach their designated limit while recycling fewer devices than they’ve sold.
“The weight that’s available to be reclaimed in the field far exceeds the weight of what is being sold,” Bylone says.
A better solution would be a return based model, he says, in which OEMs would be required to take whatever consumers bring to be recycled.
“We have collected the target amount of e-waste each year since the law took effect,” he says. “However, there are limited outlets that take the materials. Only about 30 sites collect everything that is covered by the law.
“Municipalities that have stepped up to help manage the materials end up with leftover e-waste when the manufacturers reach their quotas,” he adds. “That’s why I advocate a return based model. We need a more effective way of managing electronic waste in Pennsylvania.”
Bylone is not alone in his thinking.
In June, the Recycling Markets Center, along with the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, the Electronics Recycling Association of Pennsylvania and the Keystone Chapter of the Solid Waste Association of North America sent an open letter to the General Assembly urging changes to the Covered Device Recycling Act.
The letter explained the organizations’ concerns with the act, as well as an amendment [to House Bill 1900] proposed by Rep. Chris Ross [R-Chester], one of the architects of the original law. These concerns include, but are not limited to:
-- language in the law that allows for “generous and broad interpretation,” which leads to ambiguity in application of the law;
-- lack of reasonable, supply chain balanced criteria for establishing and sustaining collection, transportation, and recovery infrastructure;
-- inadequate requirements for manufacturers, placing an undue burden on local governments; and
-- limited options for the management of CRTs and lead-containing glass.
The letter also suggests alternatives for managing electronic waste, including legislation that “does not require local government involvement but allows for it under controlled conditions.”
(To read the entire letter, go to http://ewastepa.org.)
E-Waste Troubles Snowball
The glut of e-waste across the state and the cost to recycle it have led to the closure of many collection sites, making the situation worse. According to the Electronics Recycling
Association of Pennsylvania (ERAP), the e-waste recycling industry in Pennsylvania is shrinking, rather than growing.
This year, more than 20 regional recycling sites in western Pennsylvania were slated to close, according to ERAP. Two counties in the southcentral part of the state lost e-waste recycling opportunities, as did the five-county area around Philadelphia.
The number of recyclers that participate in the CDRA program have also diminished, according to the association. Two companies have folded, and eight others continue to reduce their participation due to the current legal structure. The remaining recyclers do not receive enough money from the program to cover the cost of recycling the amount of e-waste that is being generated.
The result of all of this is two-fold.
In areas that lack recycling opportunities, computers and televisions are often illegally dumped along roads and down hillsides.
“We found hundreds of TVs illegally dumped during the Great American Cleanup of PA,” Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful President Shannon Reiter says. “One of the biggest challenges of the covered device law is that there is a statewide ban on electronics disposal but there is not universal coverage. That leaves our rural communities high and dry.”
“CRTs are a huge part of the problem,” says Larry Holley of DEP’s Waste Minimization and Planning Division. “It’s a national issue; it’s not unique to Pennsylvania.”
The industry estimates that it will be five to seven years until CRTs are out of the waste stream, he says. What’s more, technology is always changing, and the newest generation of devices often brings new challenges.
Municipalities Continue To Provide Service
Despite these diffculties, some municipalities and counties continue recycling electronics to help their residents — as long as they can nd a recycler who will take them.
Washington Township in Franklin County shut down its e-waste collection at the beginning of the year be- cause the recycling processors they were using dropped out, Manager Mike Christopher says. The township was able to secure a new contract with e-End, based in Frederick, Md., and reinstate the recycling program.
“We opened it again in June to township residents for a 45 cents-per pound fee,” Christopher says. “Now we are accepting electronics from anyone, at the same rate.”
The township pays $153 for e-End to pick up a truckload of e-waste weighing 9,000 to 10,000 pounds.
The township also pays 45 cents per pound, with a minimum of $25 for each television.
“It’s an interim program we are willing to provide for our residents,” the manager says. “No one County accepts electronics at its recycling center and also handles the e-waste collected by neighboring Polk Township. The township was fortunate to be able to piggyback on a county contract with an e-waste recycler, Manager Dave Albright says.
“The law didn’t provide for the amount of e-waste that is generated,” he says. “Still, townships need to provide residents with an outlet for these items.”
The Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority accepts electronics at its two processing centers, and if municipalities contract with the authority for their annual or biennial community cleanups, electronics will be accepted.
“Our electronics recycling program is good overall,” recycling coordinator Leigh Twoey says. “We collected 180 tons of electronics in 2015. It’s very labor-intensive to prepare and package the e-waste as requested by the recycler, and the rebate isn’t close to covering the cost.
“It is nowhere near a sustainable program currently,” she adds. “We’re hoping the law changes so we can continue with it.”
Elk County’s recycling center accepts electronics three days a week and one Saturday a month, coordinator Bekki Titchner says. The county contracts with recycling processor eLoop for the e-waste.
“We have at least a box truck of electronics a week,” she says. “Right now, we have a tractor trailer full of electronics waiting to go to eLoop.”
Titchner says she would rather deal with electronics being dropped off than have to clean up illegal dumps, but she hopes the law improves to help the situation.
“Legislators need to visit recycling programs to see the real challenges of dealing with these things,” she says. “It takes an entire day to prepare and package the e-waste, and we are just the first step in a long line of things that happen between when electronics are dropped off and when they are recycled into new products.
“If you have a law that says you can’t throw this stuff away, you need to have a program that makes sense,” she adds. “People will do the right thing if they are given a reasonable solution. Right now, they don’t always have one.”
For more about electronics recycling issues, go to http://ewastepa.org.
Click Here for a PDF of the article with illustrations.
For information on how to subscribe, visit the PSATS PA Township News webpage.
For more background on the electronics recycling program, visit DEP’s Covered Device Recycling Act webpage.
[Editor’s Note: The Senate and House have 6 scheduled voting days left this year to act on legislation before all legislation dies and has to start over next year. It is unlikely House Bill 1900 or other proposals for dealing with e-waste issues will be considered this year.]
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